Schools on front lines in nationwide movement to protect undocumented students

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By Sabrina Holcomb

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Download NEA’s Safe Zone resolution policy and FAQs for locals. Click here ›

As Inauguration Day approaches—along with rising fears that President-elect Trump will keep his campaign promise to terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, leaving close to a million DREAMers and millions more undocumented students vulnerable to deportation—school districts across the country are rushing to declare school campuses “safe zones.”

Concerns intensified after last week’s Senate confirmation hearing when Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General, would not commit to protecting DACA students or promise not to use the information collected when they signed up for the program against them.

Frightened families are turning to their children’s educators for solace and advice as more school boards hasten to adopt safe zone resolutions—going on record that they won’t allow immigration enforcement agents into their schools without a review process.

“Panicky parents and students are asking me what’s going to happen to them on January 20,” reports Illinois elementary school teacher Elizabeth Jiménez. “It’s urgent for schools to send a message of support letting students know they’re not alone.”

In addition to teaching English language learners in Maercker school district 60, Jiménez, a graduate of NEA’s Minority and Women’s Leadership program, serves as the first Latina school board member in Berwyn South 100, a school district with large populations of Latino, ELL, and immigrant students.

Recognizing her students will be particularly hard hit by harsh rhetoric and hardline immigration policies, Jiménez is exploring NEA’s new sample safe zone resolution policy with her board members.

“No one knows exactly what will happen after the new administration takes office,” notes NEA Senior Counsel Emma Leheny, who drafted sample resolutions for K-12 and higher ed campuses to educate school staff about the protections they can legally offer students.

“The guidelines amplify the rights that students and schools already have,” explains Leheny. “Our members want to know, ‘What do we do if ICE agents attempt to come on campus? How can we help our students without breaking the law’?”

NEA’s safe zone resolution answers these questions and more by:

  • recommending steps for educators and administrators to follow if approached by ICE on school grounds
  • recognizing the constitutional right of undocumented students to a public K-12 education, as set forth by the Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe
  • and most important, says Leheny, sending a clear message of support to students and their families, reassuring them they belong in the school community.

Although mega cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York led the first wave of the movement with school board resolutions, city council legislation, and public statements of support, mid-size and smaller school districts—from Montgomery County, Maryland, to Roaring Fork, Colorado—have followed suit.

Higher education institutions from coast to coast are vowing to offer sanctuary to their undocumented students, while nearly 600 college and university presidents who signed an open letter supporting the DACA program have offered to meet with U.S. leaders to press their case.

“I’m proud of the education community,” declares Elizabeth Jiménez, who is lobbying her school board to adopt a safe zone resolution by the end of January.

“They’re bravely going on record to voice their commitment to all of their students and staff, including those who are undocumented,” says Jiménez, who feels a profound responsibility to be that voice for her students.

“Having been undocumented at one point in my life makes me that voice. Being the only Latina on my school board makes me that voice. Most of all, being a teacher makes me that voice.”

Reader Comments

  1. How can you consider sending back students who are not Legal citizens– but have spent their WHOLE life in America? How would you like to be deported to where your forefathers originally came from just because they were not born in America? I’m thinking you would not like to have that done to you!! Don’t do it to the children! If we do that the ONLY ones who should be citizens of America are the original American Indians. You have a brain–use it!

    1. It is easy to send people here illegally back to their native lands. The are criminals, the parents have modeled criminal behavior for their kids, legal-citizen taxpayers are supporting their activities as they are here illegally. No one whi is here legally will be deported. Legal is not the issue. Criminal behavior is. Dear Vicki, the so called native Americans migrated here from somewhere so I guess they are illegal too. Use your brain. The first inhabitants did not have organized governments and roamed the prairies and forests. Their treatment was not exactly kind but to use that analogy is nonsensical

  2. If an individual is here illegally, they need to be deported. End of discussion. It is abhorrent to think that schools are teaching/legitimizing/modeling illegal behavior to students. If it is OK for illegal aliens (let’s not mince words and dance around with terms like undocumented, they need to be documented as illegal) to illegally enter and stay in this country and leach off taxpayers using taxpayer funded institutions why stop there? If one extends the concept of accepting to chose what laws we will or will not follow, it stands to reason that any law can be ignored if we do not like it. Whoops, reason, not involved in this discussion. This is an emotional issue. Oh, the poor illegal immigrants who chose not to stay in their own country and fight for the rights and freedoms that our forefathers sacrificed for. Who ever told them that liberty, freedom and the American way of life is free? Those who allow them to stay. As a Marine, I will let the bleeding heart liberals in on a secret, freedom does not come freely, nor is it cheap. Illegal is illegal, out they go. And they can take the Rosie O’Donnells and all the other whiners with them. What time does the bus leave?

      1. I know my grand parent were here legally. I found their names in the ledger at Ellis Island. My understanding is that allowed them to legally enter the country. How about yours?

  3. Doesn’t matter..all smoke and mirrors again. Trump said, all illegals will be given an opportunity to become legal. So, this is just another fear tactic. The idea is to keep families together, but do it legally.

  4. Illegal is illegal and Plyler v. Doe needs to be immediately overturned so that ALL illegal aliens are deported and know that America is taking back the right of the citizens! Go back and make fix Mexico!

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